Drought/snowpack: ‘I think we’re reliving the ’50s, bottom line’ — Brian Bledsoe #codrought #cowx



From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

If recent heavy rains and snowy mornings have people thinking this year’s water picture might be improving, they should think again.

The parched region is a long way from turning the corner, according to projections for the Aspinall Unit, which includes Blue Mesa and several other reservoirs in the Upper Gunnison Basin.

“We’re about halfway through our snow accumulation season, so things could get better, but right now, the Gunnison River Basin is about 62 percent of average for snowpack,” said Erik Knight, hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Aspinall [Unit].

From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

“I think we’re reliving the ’50s, bottom line,” Bledsoe said Friday morning at the annual meeting of the Colorado Water Congress. Bledsoe studies the famous El Niño and La Niña ocean currents. But he also looks at other, less well-known cycles, including long-term temperature cycles in the oceans.

In the 1950s, water in the Pacific Ocean was colder than normal, but it was warmer than usual in the Atlantic. That combination caused a drought in Colorado that was just as bad as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The ocean currents slipped back into their 1950s pattern in the last five years, Bledsoe said. The cycles can last a decade or more, meaning bad news for farmers, ranchers, skiers and forest residents. “Drought feeds on drought. The longer it goes, the harder it is to break,” Bledsoe said…

Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist, said the summer of 2012 was the hottest on record in Colorado. And it was the fifth-driest winter since record-keeping began more than 100 years ago. Despite recent storms in the San Juan Mountains, this winter hasn’t been much better.

“We’ve had a wimpy winter so far,” Doesken said. “The past week has been a good week for Colorado precipitation.”

However, the next week’s forecast shows dryness returning to much of the state.

Reservoir levels are higher than they were in 2002 – the driest year since Coloradans started keeping track of moisture – but the state is entering 2013 with reservoirs that were depleted last year. “You don’t want to start a year at this level if you’re about to head into another drought,” Doesken said.

From the Nation Weather Service Pueblo Office:

A large storm system will move into the central Rockies next weekend. Model forecasts are currently indicating the potential for 3 different storm tracks. If track 1 occurs, some snow is likely over southern Colorado. If track 3 occurs, there could be little or no snow over southern Colorado. If track 2 occurs, there could be a widespread, significant snowstorm over southern Colorado. Unfortunately, with forecast models indicating so many possible storm tracks, it is difficult to have confidence in any one of the forecasts at this time. Stay tuned to your National Weather Service over the next few days. A clearer picture of what to expect should emerge as we approach the weekend.

House Joint Resolution 13-1044 clears House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee


From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Marianne Goodland):

The committee unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 13-1004, which encourages the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to withdraw a 2012 directive that requires ski areas to turn over their water rights, without compensation, for federal lands leased from the Forest Service.

HJR 1004 points out that federal law requires federal agencies to abide by the water laws of the states in which federal lands are located. However, according to resolution sponsor Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), the Forest Service drafted the 2012 directive in violation of that law, known as the McCarran Act.

The National Ski Areas Association filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service over the directive, and a Denver District Court judge recently ruled in favor of the NSAA, but only on procedural grounds and not on the substance of the directive. According to testimony in Monday’s hearing, the judge told the Forest Service that “they didn’t do it right” when they issued the directive without public input, a violation of federal administrative procedures.

Meanwhile, here’s the USFS release about the public meetings this spring (Chris Strebig):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service announced today a public process to develop a directive regarding water rights on National Forest System lands that have ski areas and other permitted uses. The Forest Service plans to begin the public process this spring.

“Establishing an inclusive process on this important issue will help meet long-term goals,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Daniel Jirón. “Maintaining the water with the land will ensure a vibrant ski industry, and resilient and healthy national forests and mountain communities into the future.”

Regional Forester Jirón testified today before the Colorado General Assembly House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. The Committee scheduled the hearing to address water rights and ski areas brought up through Colorado House Bill 13-1013 and Colorado House Joint Resolution 13-1004.

On December 19, 2012, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in National Ski Areas Association, Inc. v. United States Forest Service ruled to vacate the 2012 Forest Service directive on ski area water rights. The Court declined to rule on the substance of the Forest Service directive, but indicated the Agency should proceed with public notice and comment for this type of directive.

The Forest Service Directive System consists of manuals and handbooks that codify policy and provide administrative direction for Forest Service employees to manage National Forest System lands.

“Together, we can find solutions that support a strong ski industry, keep the water with the land to sustain local communities, and ensure the long-term viability of this unsurpassed winter recreational experience,” said Jirón. “We think it is a good idea to engage the public and communities to map out next steps on this issue.”

The National Forest System lands comprise 192 million acres of forest and grasslands in 43 states. The Forest Service estimates that downhill skiers and snowboarders at 22 ski areas on national forests in Colorado contribute approximately $1.5 billion annually to Colorado’s economy.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

The CWCB plans to roll Flaming Gorge Pipeline analysis in with other IBCC reviews for transmountain diversions #coriver


Here’s an article from last week that deals with the demise of the Flaming Gorge Task Force. It ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and was written by Gary Harmon.

From The River Blog (Jessie Thomas-Blate):

Last year, American Rivers listed the Green River as #2 on our annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, due to the potential impact of this pipeline on the river, the recreation economy, and the water supply for the lower Colorado River Basin…

Recently, a coalition of 700 business owners called Protect the Flows commissioned a poll that found 84% of West Slope residents and 52% of metro Denver-area residents oppose building additional water pipelines across the mountains. In fact, 76% of Colorado residents think that the solution lies in using water in smarter and more efficient ways, with less waste…

The Green River is a paddler’s paradise. In May 2012, Steve Markle with O.A.R.S. told us why paddlers love the Green River so much. Then in August, Matt Rice, our Director of Colorado Conservation, told us about his trip fishing the Green, and the big trout, beautiful scenery, and solitude he found there. Finally, Scott Willoughby with the Denver Post gives a description of the river that makes you jealous if you don’t have easy access to this trout oasis (even if you aren’t an avid fisherman!).

It is no wonder so many people care about preserving adequate water flows in the Green River. It not only provides essential water and cash flow for West Slope towns, but also a great adventure for the citizens of Colorado and beyond.

More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.

U.S. water infrastructure needs: ‘The cost is massive and the cost of not doing it is massive’ — David LaFrance


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Water infrastructure in the United States is aging and by 2035 could cost $1 trillion to update or replace. Water users should expect to pay higher rates, said David LaFrance, executive director of the America Water Works Association at the closing luncheon of the Colorado Water Congress on Friday.

“The cost is massive and the cost of not doing it is massive,” LaFrance said. “Household bills will go up as the costs keep coming. AWWA is trying to figure out how to do it so the customers aren’t stymied by costs.” The largest costs of water investment are not the dams, pumping stations and other parts visible to the naked eye, but the pipes buried underground.

The bulk of that infrastructure was installed after World War II, and will continue to deteriorate, LaFrance said.

AWWA is working to secure national funding to pay the costs, since 85 percent of the water systems in the U.S. are considered very small. A challenge for larger utilities will be to ensure that costs do not unduly burden poorer customers, he added.

The group also named Sterling native Diane Hoppe, a former state representative and now a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, as the Wayne Aspinall Water Leader of the Year.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the high points of a water conference that stressed getting future generations interested in water invoked a figure from a century ago.

J.C. Ulrich, an engineer who designed Rio Grande Reservoir, read a few of his letters from the period of 1905­ 1912 during construction. He described the surveying work, conditions for the workmen, disputes with contractors and even the quality of food during construction. Well, actually it was Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs in character — complete with a stout black moustache and bowler hat — reading the letters at the Colorado Water Congress Friday.

Some of the presentations at the conference looked at how younger people can be persuaded to enter careers in water-related fields. Hobbs, a fine actor known for dramatic reading of his own poetry, reprised the role of Ulrich that he created for the 100th anniversary of the reservoir last summer.

The reservoir’s construction came after an 1896 embargo on building reservoirs in the Upper Rio Grande was lifted. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact among Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

Water attorneys Bill Paddock and Dave Robbins explained how the compact divides water among the states. A treaty with Mexico also affects the river. Disputes over the Rio Grande date back to the 1880s, when a drought, railroad and canal development converged on the upper portion of the river in Colorado. A 1906 treaty lifted the embargo and allowed the construction of the reservoir.

More infrastructure coverage here.